Seeing the Whole Process - Part 3

Seeing the Whole Process - Part 3

Posted on June 14 by HeatherM in Interview
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Seeing the Whole Process – Part 3

In my last two blog posts, I discussed the editorial process and the marketing and publicity processes here at Dundurn Press. This month, to continue my overview of how a book moves from a first draft to a finished product on the shelf, I am diving in to the design process! I spoke with our Senior Designer, Laura Boyle, to get the low-down on all of the design work that goes in to turning a manuscript into a beautiful book to hold and read.


When do you begin work on a book’s design?

The design process begins almost immediately upon acquisition. One of the components of costing out the book is deciding what format it will have, which includes determining trim size and deciding whether the book will be printed in colour or black and white. These decisions are made by the production manager in conjunction with the editorial department. The cover is also started very early on in the process, because it is needed for all ensuing marketing materials, and also because it can take longer than projected to develop.

What type of information about the book are you given before you begin designing the cover? Does the author ever give suggestions about what they have in mind for the cover?

When I start a cover design, I first go on a fact-finding mission! I need to know as much as possible about the book so that I can design a cover that suits it. And yes, authors are a primary source for information about their covers. They are the ones who will know details about the book that may not be accessible to me in the early stages of the book's development (such as a main character’s eye colour,) or be able to suggest metaphors that may represent the book. 

What is your process for designing a book’s cover? Who has the final say in approving the cover design? How long does it generally take to design and finalize a cover?

First, I research all the details I need to know about the book: the target audience, author and editorial visions, comparative titles, marketing copy, sample chapters, etc. Next, I brainstorm ideas with the editorial and marketing teams, and we try to come up with a springboard to launch the creative process. I then go off by myself and scour various resources for images, concepts, and typography. I do my best to incorporate all these different inputs into three to four cohesive designs. I present these to a committee of internal personnel who will give me feedback on the directions I have taken. If one of them works particularly well, we pass it by the author. If the author is thrilled, then we have our cover. I do my best to incorporate the author's feedback, and usually it is something that's easy to fix (such as a font, or a detail of the image). My goal is to ensure that everyone's concerns are met (within reason), and at times some back and forth is needed, but generally by the end of the process I've managed to satisfy both the author and our in-house team. Ultimately though, as publishers, we are the experts, so we reserve the final say on which version of a cover we use. The whole process takes anywhere from one week to two months.

What are the biggest challenges about designing a book’s cover? Do you remember any particularly difficult books?

I suppose the biggest challenge as a designer is always being aware that my opinion is only one part of the equation. I may be super keen on using a particular font, for example, but if an author has an adverse reaction to it, I don't spend a lot of time arguing about it. Much of design is a matter of opinion, and I deeply respect authors’ input – we’re talking about the work that they have brought into the world, so no one is closer to it than they are. The most challenging books to work on are the ones where I am given a long list of things to avoid, but no ideas to work with. Creativity doesn't flourish in a void. 

How do you go about designing the interior of a book?

The answer to that is very long, but briefly: I try to incorporate elements from the cover to create a cohesive package, but the best interior design does not attract attention to itself. It's a subtle art.


Thanks for sharing the design side of the publishing process, Laura! So far, we’ve covered editorial, marketing, publicity, and design – but that’s not all that’s involved in moving a book from the initial manuscript to the shelf. Next month, look for my overview of the production side of book publishing.

To read about Laura’s process for developing the cover of Sadia, by Colleen Nelson, head over to this recent issue of Dundurn Behind the Covers: